The FIFA World Cup: Facts, trivia, and anecdotes – Moneycontrol

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A global sport?
Football is the most popular sport in the world: an estimated 3.5 billion watched the last edition of the World Cup in 2018, while the 2026 edition is set to feature 48 teams. At the same time, no team outside Europe and South America has won the FIFA World Cup.
There have been only four instances – out of 21 – of a team winning a World Cup outside its continent. Brazil brought the trophy home from Sweden in 1958 in Sweden, and Germany from Brazil in 2014. The other two editions were held outside Europe and South America. Brazil won in 2002 (co-hosted by Japan and South Korea), while Spain won in 2010 (in South Africa).
A world record
The 1950 edition, in Brazil, did not have a final. Instead, Spain, Sweden, Uruguay, and Brazil played a league in the final stage. The last match of the tournament – Brazil versus Uruguay at the Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro – determined the champion.
This match was attended by 173,850 people. To quote the Guinness Book of World Records, this is ‘the record holder for not only the largest attendance at a World Cup match, but also the highest at any football/soccer match.’ The unofficial tally is estimated at around 200,000.
At the other end of the spectrum, the 1930 Romania-Peru match in Montevideo remains the least-attended World Cup match: only 300 people turned up.
The Indian withdrawal
After the Philippines, Indonesia, and Burma (now Myanmar) all withdrew from the 1950 World Cup, India qualified by default. But the All India Football Federation (AIFF) then had disagreements over ‘team selection, and insufficient practice time’ (Sports Illustrated) and withdrew. Novy Kapadia suggested a second reason in Barefoot to Boots: ‘India stayed out primarily because, for the AIFF, the World Cup did not have the same gravitas as the Olympics.’
Over the years, there grew a myth of the Indians not being allowed to participate because they used to play barefoot. The rumour remains unsubstantiated.
Cent per cent attendance
Brazil are the only team to have featured in the FIFA World Cup every single time (including the upcoming 2022 edition). Germany are next (20, though some of their appearances had been as West Germany), followed by Italy (18), Argentina (18), and Mexico (17).
Brazil have also won the World Cup a record five times, but Germany have more appearances in the final (eight, one more than Brazil’s seven).
Across the Wall
West Germany hosted the 1974 World Cup. Coincidentally, this was also the only edition for which East Germany qualified. Both teams were pitted in Group 2, and when the two teams met, East Germany beat West Germany 1-0 in Hamburg amidst tight security.
Lost and found and conquered and lost
Jules Rimet, the longest-serving President of FIFA, held the post from 1921 to 1954. In 1928, he led the drive for a World Cup. To honour him, the World Cup was renamed as the Jules Rimet Trophy in 1946.
The 1966 World Cup was held in England. On March 20, 1966, the trophy was stolen from the Methodist Central Hall in Westminster. A call and a note, demanding a £15,000 ransom, followed. The police followed the trail and arrested one Edward Betchley – but could not recover the trophy.
On March 28, David Corbett of Norwood stepped out with his mongrel, Pickles. When Pickles drew attention to a newspaper-wrapped package inside the neighbour’s car, Corbett recovered ‘a woman holding a dish over her head, and disks with the words Germany, Uruguay, Brazil’ (his own words to The Guardian). He recognised it for what it was. The police interrogated Corbett, but he eventually received £3,000 as reward. Pickles became an instant celebrity, and even starred in the movie The Spy with a Cold Nose.
Brazil won the World Cup in 1970. Having already won it in 1958 and 1962, they became permanent owners of the Jules Rimet Trophy. A new trophy was commissioned for subsequent editions.
‘We have nothing’
The 1962 World Cup is remembered for Garrincha’s genius, but a more significant event took place before the tournament. Chile had been ravaged by earthquakes two years before the match, and the impacts of land reform in the country were yet to be seen. They were almost out of contention as the World Cup hosts.
While pleading his country’s case to remain hosts, Carlos Dittborn, President of the Chilean Football Federation, delivered the iconic line, ‘we must have the World Cup because we have nothing.’ Chile beat Argentina 31-12 to clinch hosting rights.
More canine adventures
The Chile World Cup matches were violent, but there were lighter moments as well. During the quarter-final between Brazil and England, a dog managed to infiltrate the ground. Jimmy Greaves of England carried it away amidst loud applause, but the canine responded by wetting Greaves’s shirt.
Garrincha was perhaps the most amused of them all. He went on to score two goals in Brazil’s 3-1 win. The triumphant Brazilians brought the dog home. Garrincha won the raffle that determined its ownership. He named it Bicampeonato (Bi).
It returns home
While football probably has its roots in the pre-Christ Chinese sport cuju, it was played in the British Isles in the eighth century. It will not be an exaggeration call Britain the home of football.
Despite that, the first seven World Cups were played in Uruguay, Italy, France, Brazil, Switzerland, Sweden, and Chile – in that order. It was not until the eighth edition that it was hosted by an English-speaking country – England.
The brief stay
The 1934 and 1938 World Cups were played in knockout formats. In the latter, Hungary thrashed the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) 6-0 in the first round, thereby knocking the latter out of the tournament. Indonesia have not qualified again, making it the shortest stint for any team at the World Cup.
The record win
At Coffs Harbour in 2001, Australia beat American Samoa 31-0 in an Oceanian qualifying match for the following year’s World Cup. This remains a world record for international football matches, as are Australia’s Archie Thompson’s 13 goals in the match.
The wooden spoon
Brazil beat Germany 2-0 to win the 2002 World Cup. On 30 June, the day of the final in Yokohama, Bhutan and Montserrat – the two lowest-ranked teams as per FIFA rankings – also clashed in Thimphu. Bhutan won this FIFA-sanctioned match 4-0.
This was Bhutan’s first ever win at football, and the first time they returned a clean sheet. The match inspired an award-winning documentary, The Other Final.
The unfortunate exit
In the 2006 World Cup, Switzerland drew 0-0 against France before beating both Togo and South Korea by 2-0 margins to finish at the top of Group G. Their Round of 16 match against Ukraine ended in a 0-0 draw. Ukraine won the tie-breaker 3-0, which meant that Switzerland set the bizarre record of being eliminated from the World Cup without conceding a goal.
The most expensive goals
In 1990, when the UAE qualified for the World Cup for the first (and till date, only) time, their Prime Minister Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan promised a Rolls-Royce to each goal-scorer.
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